By Cheryl King, Managing Director of Markettiers MENA

There has never been a more powerful opportunity to do things differently. What we’ve seen is brands innovating, being bold, being more creative and willing to take more risks to try something different. The old ways of doing things – for example a physical event, an announcement or a press conference – do not exist anymore, so brands have had to think on their feet to decide how they want to play in this new world where there is no rule book or code on ‘how to do things’ as we come out of a global pandemic. 

Cheryl King, Managing Director of Markettiers MENA

Rather than going away and sinking into obscurity, it’s been an interesting time to be in comms to see how remaining visible is actually forcing brands to think in new, and innovative ways. Invisibility during this time has mostly not been an option, and those that have won big – I believe – are the brands that have seen opportunities and have reacted quickly, rather than simply halted activity and disappeared into the ether. 

With the only thing certain about the crisis being the uncertainty it has generated, rather than waiting things out, it’s those that have been quick and nimble to adapt who are ultimately coming out stronger.

The Winners

With the phrase ‘WFH’ now becoming the norm rather than the exception and workforces literally transitioning their homes into makeshift offices overnight, what we have seen is certain comms lines booming and others becoming obsolete. What we’ve seen is the rise of virtual comms in essence. 

What that means in real terms is the likes of podcasting and live streaming for brands providing new ways to engage with core and new audiences in a more meaningful way than ever before, albeit virtually of course. And that’s where the opportunities have been for brands to win big – both from an external and internal comms perspective. 

Our report into the podcast landscape of the UAE and KSA showed that 16% and 15% respectively of the populations tune into podcasts at least once a week. And the latter report for KSA was delivered solely during lockdown, so the environment and background against it puts it into context. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking these aren’t ‘mass market’ numbers but the story is quite the opposite, and they are anything but. This is not about reaching mass generic audiences where maybe 10% might be actually relevant to the brand, but it is everything about reaching niche, targeted audiences with zero wastage. 

Podcasting numbers have shifted significantly during the pandemic – ‘in car play’ is of course down for obvious reasons because people have not been commuting – but listening to podcasts as a means of escapism and as a source of news has risen dramatically. Overall, according to Forbes, podcast listenership during COVID-19 is up 18% globally.

So what we are seeing now is that brands have realised very quickly the power of remote podcasting as a solid and successful way to reach plugged-in, active and worldly customers. The spend power bubbling away within the UAE listenership enforces what a remarkable opportunity this is with podcast listeners outspending their non-podcasting listener peers by 26% on average. 

We have seen this realised as well through remote internal comms podcasting. Audiences are disparate, organisations in the UAE are huge, and the one thing that unites everyone is the device they carry around in their pockets every day: their smartphone. So brands have started to embrace podcasting as a hugely effective means to reach and engage audiences through a mobile-first strategy. And as 90% of podcasts are listened to on their smartphone – essentially being ‘radio on demand’ – the creation of a series of podcasts to deliver business updates, to keep employees and staff motivated and to update on the state of play, has proven to become an effective means to really resonate and build a level of trust with internal audiences in the absence of the physical office set up.

Audio And Visual 

Moreover, just as virtual comms when it comes to audio has been one of the winners, so too has virtual live streaming from a visual perspective. We’re all familiar with the daily Zoom, Blue Jeans and Microsoft Teams calls but more than that, we have been delivering multi-camera virtual live streaming without the need for a physical crew. In a quarter that is typically dominated by events, announcements, new product launches etc, the opportunity to still deliver this – without anyone on the ground is massive. Again it’s about thinking differently, and finding a solution to the problem. 

Utilizing a virtual online green room, building the interface for the audience, and streaming via an iframe to multiple online platforms, supported by a live producer directing the interchange of camera angles without anyone actually being physically present, has been an exciting one. 

Technology is enabling us to innovate and work in ways that we never thought possible before. One of the positives of the crisis is that it’s forced us to innovate, up our games, and adapt quickly. 

As we now come out of these few months and some of us move back into offices, whilst others stick to working from home, one thing’s for certain: how we communicate will never be the same again. We have to think differently, we have to find solutions to problems put in front of us, and the ways of old may not always be the best anymore. We’ve shown that as a sector, we can move at pace; it may no longer be business as usual, but communicating in smarter, more efficient ways, has just forced us all to up the ante.